Tuesday, December 30, 2008

French Yule Log -- Daring Bakers December 2008 Challenge

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.

They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

If you recall, the DBers did a yule log last year but this year's yule log is very different. Hilda & Marion explain:

In France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either the Genoise and Buttercream type that we made last December, or what is more commonly purchased which is a frozen Yule Log very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English as simply a cream dessert. This also means that this recipe is not holiday-specific, it is also just a scrumptious dessert recipe.

And, it *was* a challenge. In fact, looking at this recipe (a frozen dessert in December? with all those steps?) and at all the things I had to do this month, I thought I might skip out.

But I needed an after-Christmas project, and here it was!

We had a bit of leeway in preparing each of the SIX components (you can see the original recipe here) but I opted for:

Chocolate Icing
Milk Chocolate Chantilly
Cinnamon Vanilla Crème Brulée
Dark Chocolate Crisp
Cinammon-Chocolate Ganache Insert
Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

The order in which the recipe is laid out below is different from the original; it reflects the order in which I made things, and includes a few changes.

I had quite a bit of difficulty with the creme brulee. The recipe advises baking the creme in a water bath for 1 hour at 210-degrees F. After baking my creme that way for an 80 minutes, it still wasn't set. I took it out of the water bath, placed it back in the oven and then, finally, it set up.

Following that, I let it cool and placed the creme, in its mould, in the freezer. The next day, I couldn't get the damn thing out -- the liquid had seeped under the parchment and formed a custard glue, bonding the creme to its mould. So, while still frozen, I divided it into three pieces and popped each section out one-by-one.

The other challenge on *this* challenge was getting an even coating of icing on the yule log. The top came out fine but the sides were patchy ... hence the cookies! What you see above are dark chocolate Piroulines and Jules Destrooper Virtuosos (chocolate covered cinnamon cookies).

And how does it taste? Mmm, delicious. I especially love the cinnamon ganache layer. The crisp layer was a bit too crisp for me; maybe next time I'd use a finely crumbled wafer cookie and spread the chocolate very thin before it sets.

Thank you to Hilda and Marion for throwing down the dessert gauntlet and really challenging us this month! Check out hundreds of other yule logs via The Daring Bakers' Blogroll.

French Yule Log

Element #1 Cinnamon Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

1/2 cup heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup whole milk
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean
4 medium-sized egg yolks
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1. Heat the milk, cream, cinnamon and vanilla to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the cinnamon and vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the cinnamon & vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210-degrees F for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.

Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.

5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #2 Chocolate Chantilly

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Milk Chocolate Whipped Cream (Chantilly):
(Can be made the day before and kept in the fridge overnight)
2/3 cup heavy cream 35% fat
7.8 oz milk chocolate
2 1/3 tsp (corn syrup
1 1/3 cup heavy cream 35% fat

1. Chop the chocolate coarsely.
2. Heat the 2/3 cup of cream to boiling and pour over the chocolate and glucose syrup.
3. Wait 30 seconds then stir the mix until smooth. Add the remaining 1 1/3 cups cream.
4. Refrigerate to cool, then whip up.

Element #4 Chocolate Crisp Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or use an empty bottle of olive oil).

3.5 oz (100g) dark chocolate
1 oz. (25g) Special K

1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
2. Add the cereal. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

3/4cup + 1Tbsp almond meal
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 medium egg whites
¼ cup granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioners’ sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches.
7. Bake at 350-degrees F for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #5 Cinammon-Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk, stand mixer.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

Cinammon-Chocolate Ganache Insert
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
2/3 cup minus 1 Tbsp heavy cream
A pinch of cinnamon (or more, to taste)
2.7 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
3.2 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp unsalted butter softened

1.Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color.
2. Heat the cream with the cinnamon (use the quantity of cinnamon you want to infuse the cream, a pinch is the smallest amount suggested) until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil. (You can help minimize splattering by creating an aluminum foil "lid" for the saucepan with the caramel. Make a small hole in the foil, top the caramel pan with it, and pour in the cream through that opening.)
3. Place milk & dark chocolate into the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir by hand until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and beat using the mixer's paddle attachment. The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #6 Milk Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gels quickly, you should make it at the last minute.


Milk Chocolate Icing
1.5 gelatin sheets or 3g / 1/2Tbsp powdered gelatin
4.2 oz milk chocolate
2 Tbsp butter
¼ cup heavy cream (35 % fat content)
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp. corn syrup

1. Soften the gelatin in 2 Tbsp. cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together.
3. Bring the cream and corn syrup to a boil.
4. Add the gelatin.
5. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
6. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gel), use immediately.

Assembling the French Yule Log

Each time you pipe the chantilly, you will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan with plastic film.
2) Pipe one third of the chantilly component into the mold.
3) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
4) Pipe second third of the Chantilly component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the chantilly you just piped into the mold.
6) Pipe the last third of the chantilly component on top of the Praline Insert.
7) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
9) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

the order is:
1) Chantilly
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Chantilly
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Chantilly -- FREEZE
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you and to all who dine at your table.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Eggnog Cookies

Over at Culinary in the Desert, Joe posted his recipe for Eggnog Spiced Spritz Cookies as part of his holiday baking spree.

"Mmmm," I thought. "Those sound like the ones my mom makes."

So I went off in search of my cookie press. And came up empty.

I can't remember the last time I used it but I'm sure it's in our house somewhere -- probably in one of those boxes that remain unpacked from our move over two years ago.

But still, the craving for buttery, noggy cookies called, so I made Joe's recipe and shaped them into rounds.

The result is a bit softer than I'm sure the spritz cookies would be, but they remain wonderful. I added a bit more rum and vanilla extracts to the glaze because I love when those flavors pop, but you should play with the flavorings as you see fit. My changes are reflected in the recipe below.

Eggnog Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks (16 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. rum extract
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, nutmeg and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Mix in egg, rum extract and vanilla until combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Scoop a heaping tablespoon of dough with a spoon, roll it into a ball, and flatten it to about 1/4-inch thickness before placing on the baking sheet. Cookies should be spaced about 2 inches apart.Press dough into cookie press with desired shaped-plate. Bake until the edges are golden, about 8 to 12 minutes. Remove and let cool on the baking sheets for about 1 minute before transferring them to a wire rack to glaze (recipe follows). Yields approximately 3 dozen.

1 cup confectioners' sugar
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 to 2 Tbsp. warm water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. rum extract
a splash of vanilla extract
colored sugars or candies, if desired

In a small bowl, still together confectioners' sugar, melted butter and enough warm water for desired consistency. Stir in rum and vanilla extracts. Glaze by dipping the tops into the mixture or brushing it over the warm cookies. Sprinkle with sugars or candies before the glaze sets.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Orange Cardamom Cookies

Do you like my Truman Capote snowman?

Looking for a tasty alternative to sugar cookies? Give these lovely cookies a try. I love their warm orangey flavor; it's such a nice, spiced departure from the traditional cut-out cookie.

You don't have to frost them, but the citrus icing really pulls everything together.

Orange Cardamom Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Garnish: citrus icing (below)

For dough:

Whisk together flour, zest, cardamom, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in yolk and cream. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Quarter dough and form each piece into a 6-inch disk, then chill, wrapped separately in plastic wrap, until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Roll out 1 piece of dough between sheets of parchment paper into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick). Slide dough in parchment onto a tray and chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Cut out as many cookies as possible with cookie cutter (chill dough again if necessary), reserving and chilling scraps. Transfer cookies to a parchment-lined large baking sheet, arranging them 1 inch apart.

Bake until edges are golden-brown, 9 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then slide cookies, still on parchment, onto a rack to cool completely.

Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll only once) on cooled freshly lined baking sheets. If desired, ice when cookies are completely cool.

Citrus Icing

1/2 cup fresh orange juice, strained
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, strained
1 (1-pound) box confectioners sugar
4 teaspoons powdered egg whites (not reconstituted) such as Just Whites

Beat together all ingredients in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until just combined, about 1 minute.

At high speed, continue to beat until icing is thick and holds soft peaks, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer or 10 with a handheld. If not using immediately, cover surface with a dampened paper towel, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap.

Cooks' note: Icing can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, its surface covered with a dampened paper towel and bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap.

If coloring icing, transfer small batches to small bowls, 1 for each color, and tint with food coloring. Spoon each color of icing into separate sealable bags, pressing out excess air, and snip an 1/8-inch opening in 1 bottom corner of each bag. Pipe icing onto a plate to test consistency. If too thick, thin a small batch with a few drops of orange juice.

Decoratively pipe icing onto cookies, then sprinkle with decorative sugar (if using) and let dry completely, about 1 hour (depending on humidity).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Honey Mound Cookies

Another recipe from blog favorite, Mark Pescatore:

This is an OLD recipe, one my family has been since before I was born, a gem from a cookbook from yesteryear. Understand that this is a cookie that tastes better a day after you make it. When you pop one in your mouth fresh out of the oven, you'll probably think it's not without its charm, but nothing particularly special. The next day you'll try one and curse yourself for not making a double batch. For best results, use an AirBake cookie sheet (it does make a difference).

Honey Mounds

1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
red and green colored sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, egg, and honey. Add vanilla and mix. Add sifted flour, soda and salt; mix well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill at least an hour (or the dough will be sticky and difficult to work with). Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in colored sugar. Bake 10 to 12 minutes.

Yield: approx. 3 dozen

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wookie's Snickerdoodles

When I asked the kids last week what kind of cookie they'd want for Christmas if they could have only one kind, Sadie said, "Lace cookies." Kian said, "Snickerdoodles."

My goal was to find out what cookies they really, really loved, so that we could all make, and enjoy, those cookies together. Lace cookies are wonderful, but they're labor intensive (thus making the recipe less than kid-friendly) and feature chocolate (which Kian doesn't like). Fortunately, Sadie was more than happy to work on snickerdoodles -- especially after I told her that there would be lace cookies in the house for Christmas.

The snickerdoodle recipe I used came from Serious Eats, where commenter Donnie was looking to replace the recipe he'd lost. "It was special," Donnie writes, "because there is NO shortening, and not an over abundance of flour."

Commenter Wookie came to the rescue and her recipe, with a few changes, appears below. (I might add a little bit of nutmeg to the dough next time, just to play.)

It's a very nice cookie: buttery, not too sweet, with a lovely cinnamon flavor. We made them Friday night -- three dozen -- and by Sunday morning, they were all gone: the hallmark of a good cookie recipe.

I think we're going to make some more right now...

Wookie's Snickerdoodles (Source)

2 sticks of butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 3 Tbsp, separated
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3 Tbsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375-degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat until well mixed.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients and add to the butter and egg mixture. Mix on a low setting, just until the dough comes together.

In small bowl, stir together the cinnamon and the 3 Tablespoons of sugar.

Using a small cookie scoop, roll a tablespoon of dough into a ball, and then roll in the cinnamon sugar until fully coated. Place on an ungreased sheet pan, about an inch apart, and flatten gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for 8-10 minutes and cool on a cookie rack.

Yields approximately 3 dozen.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Chocolate Bread

Almost a year ago, I came upon this recipe for Chocolate Bread. Why did it take me so long to bake it? God only knows. But I finally did, and it was worth the wait.

While the final product is supposed to be have a "feathery yet rich texture," mine was denser, with a tighter crumb and a chewy crust. My guess is that, given the distinct chill in my house, I didn't allow enough time for the dough to rise before punching it down.

The flavor, however, is wonderful. The bread has a rich cocoa flavor accentuated by its chunks of dark chocolate. It tastes delicious alone but imagine spreading it with mascarpone cheese and topping it all off with a dollop of raspberry preserves? Mmm, divine.

Chocolate Bread

1 1/2 cups warm water, divided (or, if not using espresso powder, 1/2 cup warm water and 1 cup warm coffee)
2/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons dry yeast
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional (see above)
2 teaspoons salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks

Egg Glaze

1 large egg
1 teaspoon water

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the warm water with 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and set the mixture aside for 10 minutes, until foamy. If the mixture doesn't foam, the yeast might be inactive and you should try again with fresh yeast.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, place the flour, the remaining 2/3 cup of granulated sugar, the light brown sugar, the cocoa, the espresso powder (if using) and the salt. Using the paddle attachment, mix at low speed for 1 minute, until combined. If mixing by hand, use a whisk and combine thoroughly.

Add the remaining 1 cup warm water (or warm coffee, if not using the espresso powder) and the egg to the yeast mixture. Add this to the flour mixture while continuing to mix at low speed. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat the mixture for 2 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. At low speed, beat in the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is incorporated into the dough. Remove the paddle attachment and replace it with the dough hook. (Alternatively, you can knead by hand. Just make sure the butter is well softened.) Knead the dough at low speed for 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 2 minutes longer.

Add the chocolate chunks and knead just until incorporated. Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl (the dough will be quite moist). Cover the dough closely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 2 hours (or until almost doubled in bulk).

After the chocolate dough has risen, punch the dough down and cover again with plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

Butter two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the chocolate dough in half. Divide each dough half into 6 equal pieces so that you have 12 equal pieces in all. With lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a smooth, round ball. Place 6 dough balls — two by two, at a diagonal (see photo above) — in each prepared pan, pressing them lightly together if necessary. Cover the pans with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 1 hour.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water until blended. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg glaze over the tops of the loaves.

Bake the loaves for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake the bread for an additional 30 minutes. Cool the bread in the pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Unmold the bread and cool the loaves on the rack completely.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mini Caramel Cupcakes with Carmelized Butter Frosting

November 2008 Daring Bakers Challenge

Author: Shuna Fish Lydon
Recipe Origin: Caramel Cake, the recipe
DB Challenge Hosts: Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food with gluten-free recipe assistance from Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go .

It will come as no shock if I point out that two days ago was Thanksgiving, the mother of all American cooking holidays. It's also the end of the semester, and the papers I have to grade are piling up. And then there's this other holiday that's coming -- you, know: Christmas -- and preparations have already begun. So getting this challenge together was, well, challenging.

By far, the most difficult part of this was making the caramel syrup. I wasn't sure what I was looking for - how dark? How thick? I'm still not sure if I got it right, or if I just ended up with simple syrup.

The cake and frosting were reasonably straightforward. I did enjoy practicing browning butter; it's always fun to play with a technique you didn't know or had forgotten, and browned butter really does add a nuttiness that melted butter lacks.

As for the whole package -- the cupcakes topped with frosting -- I wasn't wowed. They remind me of yummy vanilla cupcakes, but the caramel notes are lost on me. Perhaps this is due to my issues with the caramel syrup.

DBers, how did you do with this challenge?


Caramel Cake with Carmelized Butter Frosting (adapted)

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two mini-muffin pans with cupcake liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place pans on cookie sheets. Set first timer for 15 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 10-15 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until a skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.} Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.

To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

Monday, November 24, 2008

Personal Trainer: Cooking

I can't believe it. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to play with this.
(Hint, HINT Nintendo.)

What do you guys think?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

My new favorite vegetable to play with is Spaghetti Squash. Slice it open, cook it, shred it with a fork and poof! -- strands of squash that look like spaghetti.

It's dead simple to prepare: just slice it in half length-wise, scoop out the seeds, loosely cover each open half with plastic wrap and microwave until the sides are softened, about 10 minutes. Then carefully scrape the hot squash with the tines of a fork and you're ready to go.

Since this is a winter squash, and winter weather calls for rich and creamy comfort foods, I like using Spaghetti Squash in a gratin. This recipe has a bit of Italian flair; the creme fraiche or sour cream just provides creaminess, and the Parmesan, asiago, parsley, sage and garlic flavors take center-stage. (You can easily leave out the sage if you like, too.) The result is a flavorful, deeply satisfying dish that can be eaten either as an entree or a side.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

1 spaghetti squash (2-3 lbs), halved lengthwise (stem to blossom end) and seeded
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground pepper
8 oz Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream
1 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese, or a mixture of both

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place squash, skin side up (one half at a time), on microwave-safe dish; cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 10-12 min, until tender.

Carefully run the tines of a fork lengthwise over cut surface of squash to loosen spaghetti-like strands; scoop out strands. Drain excess liquid, if necessary, and set aside.

Combine garlic, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, creme fraiche/sour cream, and 2/3 cup cheese in small bowl. Fold into squash; place in shallow ovenproof 2 qt. casserole dish or glass pie plate. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake 20 min or until lightly browned. (For a little extra browning, finish under the broiler.)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Mmmm.... Haute Chocolate

Louis Roederer Brut Champagne NV + White Chocolate Truffles from Vosges.

Vosges Haute Chocolate is offering a special discount to readers of Laura Rebecca's Kitchen!

(Ok, they're offering discounts through other blogs, too, but let's feel special for a moment, shall we?)

Today through November 30th, you can receive 10% off all orders made through the Vosges website. To receive your discount, enter promo code 2811PR1 at checkout. Use it to get a jump on your holiday shopping, bring a fabulous hostess gift to Thanksgiving dinner, or just treat yourself to something wonderful. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Daring Bakers Take on Pizza

Our host for this month's challenge is Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums. In honor of Sher, who was to be her co-host for this month, Rosa went with Sher's challenge idea: Peter Reinhart's basic pizza dough.

I had a lot of fun with this challenge. Shane, my friend Nancy and I gathered in the kitchen and threw the dough around, spread sauces, sprinkled cheese, scattered locally-made sausage and drizzled olive oil. (And drank wine. Lots of wine. And then watched Tina Fey. And celebrated my 31st.)

The pizza was FANTASTIC. I mean, really absolutely wonderful. The dough way a breeze to work with -- tossing it in the air, a DB challenge requirement, less so -- and baked up fabulously crisp yet chewy, just like NY-style pizza should be.

We made four types of pizza: one pesto, one pesto with spicy Italian sausage, one "regular", and one regular with sausage. All delicious, but by far the best was the regular with sausage. We ate (Sadie included) until we were stuffed.

And then we ate birthday cake.

Thank you Rosa, and thank you Sher, for sharing this wonderful recipe with the DBers. It was a wonderfully fun challenge!

Basic Pizza Dough
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast -
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.

During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Amy Sedaris' Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball

I'm a leeeetle behind on posting this recipe.

You see, Chris and Shelly, our next-door neighbors, invited Shane and I for a backyard celebration. Excellent cooks in their own right, they had a full menu planned for their event, so I needed to find something I could bring that wouldn't interfere with thier impressive spread.

After thumbing through many, many pages of many, many cookbooks, I found the Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball in Amy Sedaris' I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. Not only did it work with Chris and Shelly's menu (Appetizer! And, après-dinner snacking!) but it appealed to my love of kitsch.

And my tastebuds, and everyone's tastebuds. The creamy, rich mouthfeel, the smoky taste, the nutty crunch. It's a winner, and perfect to pair with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.

This recipe makes a GIANT cheeseball, so I separated it into two, smaller cheeseballs, both of which disappeared by the end of the evening.

Oh, and the event I made this for? Chris and Shelly's Fourth of July barbecue.

Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball (adapted from I Like You)

2 cups shredded smoked Gouda cheese, room temperature
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons steak sauce
1 cup toasted chopped almonds
Crackers, for serving

Place Gouda, cream cheese, butter, milk and steak sauce in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until well combined. Transfer mixture to refrigerator. Let chill overnight. Roll cheese mixture into two balls. Place nuts in a shallow dish. Roll cheese in nuts to fully coat. Serve with crackers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

(Low-Fat) Banana Bread

I can't believe that the tastiest banana bread I've had in a long, long time -- possibly ever -- is low in fat.

But it is. It's moist, it's sweet, it's packed with banana flavor. It's wonderful!

Low-Fat Banana Bread (adapted)

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup smashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
1/3 cup fat free milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Lightly grease 8 1/2x4 1/2x2 1/2-inch pan and dust with flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until thick and light, about 5 minutes. Mix in smashed bananas, milk, oil and vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt over mixture and mix until just blended.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake until golden brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Turn bread out onto rack and cool.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rustic Napoleons

I've decided that anything I make -- be it baked, sauteed, fried, roasted -- that doesn't come out looking like something out of a Williams-Sonoma cookbook will be dubbed "rustic."

Hence, rustic Napoleons. (I should probably go back through the archives and rename 95-percent of the recipes here.)

Being rustic, these Napoleons were fairly easy to whip up. I sliced a sheet of thawed frozen puff pastry into six equal pieces and baked them. After they cooled, I divided each rectangle in half horizontally for a total of 12 pieces. Then, I simply layered the puff pastry sheets with vanilla bean pastry cream, drizzled the tops with melted dark chocolate, and let them chill for an hour before serving.

Voila! Rustic Napoleons. A perfect pairing of crisp and savory layered with luscious, creamy, and sweet.

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (adapted from CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher)

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
5 large egg yolks at room temperature

Place milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Slice a vanilla bean open with the tip of a paring knife and scrape some of its beans into the milk and cream; add the bean as well. Heat the mixture over medium heat just until everything begins to steam.

In another medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, a good pinch of salt, and cornstarch. Remove the vanilla bean from the cream and milk, and in a thin stream, pour the liquid into the the sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.

Stir the egg yolks together in a bowl. In a thin stream, stir in about 1/4 cup of the hot mixture into the yolks, then scrape the yolk mixture into the saucepan. Return to heat and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap touching the entire surface of the custard. Chill until needed.

Yields about 2 cups.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Baked Blue Potato Chips

You can make baked chips with lots of kinds of potatoes, but aren't Adirondack blue potato chips fun?

The chips taste best, whether blue or of a"regular" hue, when hot from the oven. But you'll still want to chow down on them when they cool down -- if they last that long.

Baked Potato Chips

Potatoes (one makes a lot of chips, so choose accordingly)
Spray oil

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees F; spray two baking sheets lightly with some oil.

Slice the potatoes thinly, about 1/8-inch thick, using a mandoline and arrange them in one layer on the baking sheets. Spray slices lightly with the oil and bake 20-30 minutes or until they are golden throughout.

Transfer baked chips to a serving bowl, sprinkle with salt and enjoy.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers -- Lavash Crackers & Baba Ghanoush

Our DB hosts this month, Shel of Musings from the Fishbowl and Natalie of Gluten A Go Go, challenged us to make lavash, a type of flatbread, and a vegan dip of our choosing.

Although we were given the option of baking the lavash without gluten, I went for gluten. The recipe came together fairly easily, although I did have difficulty rolling the dough evenly, which resulted in the crackers browning unevenly. (Que sera, sera.) Still, the lavash was snappy (as it should be) and tasty with sprinklings of cumin and sesame seeds plus a bit of salt.

As for the dip, I've had a yen to make baba ghanoush all summer and it was great to finally have an opportunity to make it! It's an adaptation of the "Best Baba Ghanoush in the World" and the result really is fantastic.

Thank you to Shel and Natalie for a fun challenge!

Please visit Shel's blog for the lavash recipe, available both in gluten and gluten free versions!

Baba Ghanoush

1 large eggplant
2 to 4 Tbsp. tahini, plus more as needed
3 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of one or two lemons, plus more as needed
1 pinch ground cumin
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp.extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Place eggplant on baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Roast eggplant for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, or until soft. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and peel off and discard the skin.

Place the eggplant flesh in a bowl. Using a fork, mash the eggplant to a paste. (If you prefer a smoother dip, puree in a food processor.) Add 2 tbsp. tahini, garlic, juice of one lemon, and the cumin and mix well. Season with salt, then taste and add more tahini and/or lemon juice, if needed. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and spread with the back of a spoon to form a shallow well. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Orzo with Chicken and Parmesan

It still may be too early for comfort food: the days are fairly sunny and warm, and it's still light out at 7pm. But when those cooler, darker days roll around (or if you just want a preview) this quick and easy recipe fits the bill.

My favorite part of this dish is the mouthfeel. It's like eating risotto but with only a fraction of the work. Even reheating it in the microwave the next day yields a fantastic creaminess.

Orzo with Chicken and Parmesan (adapted)

1-2 Tbsp olive oil
12 ounces skinned, boned chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
2 -3 cloves garlic, minced (or more, if you prefer)
1 cup water
1 (16-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 cups uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, basil, and oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

In dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until opaque; add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Add water and broth to the pan and bring to a mixture to a boil.

Once boiling, add pasta and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 9 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peas, and continue to cook until the peas are heated through and the pasta has absorbed all the liquid, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup cheese, herbs, salt and pepper. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cinnamon Apple Cake

When September rolls around, I want apples.

I want to go apple picking. I want to drink apple cider. I want to eat caramel apples.

I want to bake with apples.

I stumbled across this recipe, which combines apples with my favorite spice, cinnamon. It’s very simple to pull together; the most complicated thing about it is needing a springform pan, and you could even do away with that.

The result is a tender, moist cake, almost like an English steamed pudding. It’s chockful of apple flavor and the cinnamon topping gives everything a nice lift. I wish the cake itself had more cinnamon flavor but a) that could probably be easily achieved by combining more cinnamon sugar with the apples and b) I always want more cinnamon, so this may be more of my personal taste rather than a fault of the recipe.

Cinnamon Apple Cake (adapted)

1 ¾ cups sugar, divided
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 ounces block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened (about 3/4 cup)
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsps. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
3 cups chopped peeled baking apples (about 2 large)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Lightly oil a 8-inch springform pan* and set aside.

Beat 1 ½ cups sugar, margarine, vanilla, and cream cheese at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Toss two tablespoons of the cinnamon mixture with the apples in a bowl. Fold apple mixture into batter. Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack, and cut using a serrated knife.

*You can substitute a 9-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan if you reduce the baking time by 5 minutes.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kosher-style Dill Pickles

Not that you'd know it by looking at my RSS feed, but I've done a lot of canning this summer. I started with blueberry jam, moved on to cherry jelly, and followed that up with salsa. But my favorite -- by far -- has been dill pickles.

Crispy and tangy with a hint of garlic (and of course, plenty of dill), these are perfect with a hot burger or a cold sub. They blow the storebought kind out of the water (...er, brine?).

(adapted from a recipe by Sharon Howard)

Note: I didn't have eight, 1-quart jars, so I placed the extra cucumbers in a Tupperware container, covered everything with warm brine and added dill and garlic. After letting them marinate for two days in my refrigerator, they were ready to eat -- and delicious.

8 pounds pickling cucumbers, 4 to 5 inches long
4 cups white vinegar
12 cups water
2/3 cup pickling salt
24 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
8 sprigs fresh dill weed
8 heads fresh dill weed Or 1/3 tsp. dill seed per jar

Prepare water bath canner and eight, 1-quart jars and lids.

Wash cucumbers, slice into spears, and place in the sink with cold water and lots of ice cubes. Soak in ice water for at least 2 hours but no more than 8 hours. Refresh ice as required.

In a large stainless steel pot over medium-high heat, combine the vinegar, water, and pickling salt. Bring the brine to a rapid boil.

In each jar, place 2 cloves of garlic, one head of dill or dill seeds, then enough cucumbers to fill the jar. Add one more garlic clove and a sprig of dill. Fill jars with hot brine, covering pickles completely while leaving 1/2-inch of head space. Seal jars, making sure to clean the jars' rims of any residue.

Process sealed jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.5.Store pickles for a at least 3 weeks before eating. Refrigerate after opening. Pickles will keep for up to 2 years if stored in a cool dry place. Note: the brine may turn the garlic a bluish or greenish color. This is completely normal and is safe to eat.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sugar Plums Dancing in My Head, Ed. #7

Sometimes, I read things that make my head nearly explode. Things like this:

"It just seems to me that Edwards might be attracted to a woman whose mouth did something other than talk."
--Rush Limbaugh, on the motivations behind John Edward's extra-martial affair, during the August 12 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show.

But wait! There's more:

"We've been told that Elizabeth Edwards is smarter than John Edwards. That's part of the puff pieces on them that we've seen. Ergo, if Elizabeth Edwards is smarter than John Edwards, is it likely that she thinks she knows better than he does what his speeches ought to contain and what kind of things he ought to be doing strategy-wise in the campaign? If she is smarter than he is, could it have been her decision to keep going with the campaign? In other words, could it be that she doesn't shut up? Now, that's as far as I'm going to go."

But, sadly, Limbaugh went further:

"My theory that I just explained to you about why -- you know, what could have John Edwards' motivations been to have the affair with Rielle Hunter, given his wife is smarter than he is and probably nagging him a lot about doing this, and he found somebody that did something with her mouth other than talk."

So according to Limbaugh:

1) Women who are smart automatically push their partners to do things they don't want to do

2) Women who are smart automatically nag their partners

3) Elizabeth Edwards (a smart woman) is responsible for her husband's behavior

4) Women talk incessantly

5) Smart women are asexual beings --OR-- smart women are incapable of satisfying partners sexually.

6) Men are not emotionally capable of handling relationships with smart women.

Really forward thinking from Limbaugh, huh? And he wonders why all the women he encounters seem to be "feminazis."

More info: http://mediamatters.org/items/200808120009

Friday, August 08, 2008

Chocolate Dipped Butter Cookies

For my mom's birthday (which is today) I offered to bake her anything she liked. Always a butter cookie lover, she requested:

A butter cookie that is partially dipped in chocolate. You know, like the old fashioned delicious cookies that bakeries used to make themselves before they bought them wholesale from large commercial bakeries made with butter flavoring.
Can you tell our family is into quality food?

The recipe for the cookies appears below; as for the chocolate, I melted and tempered Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate, getting a refresher in the method from Cooking for Engineers. After tempering, I dipped each cookie halfway, ran a fork gently through the liquid chocolate to provide visual interest, and set the cookie on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set up.

I hope these cookies do her request -- and she herself -- justice. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Chocolate Dipped Butter Cookies (adapted)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a bit more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Gradually add flour mixture, beating just until mixture forms a dough.

Divide dough between 2 large sheets of parchment or wax paper and form each half into a 10- x 1 1/2-inch log, wrapping it in the paper, and sealing the wrapped logs in a zip top plastic bag. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 5 days. (Or, dough may be frozen up to 2 months.)

Let dough soften slightly before cutting (or, if frozen, thaw). Preheat oven to 375-degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice dough into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place about 1 inch apart on baking sheet. VERY LIGHTLY sprinkle the tops of cookies with a bit of sea salt. To quote PJ Hamel, who used the technique on chocolate chip cookies, "We’re not talking pouring salt on your popcorn here. Just a minimalist’s sprinkle is what you’re after."

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until golden around edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before dipping in chocolate. Store cookies in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 5 days.

Yields about 50 cookies.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pasta with Swiss Chard, Raisins & Almonds

On Monday, we received a good portion of Swiss chard in our farm share, which I don't have very much experience with. So I was happy to find this recipe on Epicurious, adding a bit of pasta to turn it into a main meal based on Epicurious user recommendations.

I very much like how healthy this is: Swiss chard, almonds, raisins, and EVOO are very, very nutritive things to eat (better yet, use whole wheat pasta). Unfortunately, the final result here was a bit bland; everything just needed more "oomph" -- but this may be due to my tinkering with the recipe.

Next time, I'll increase the amount of smoked paprika (which was wonderful) and thrown in a bit of cinnamon and maybe cardamom to boot.

Pasta with Swiss Chard, Raisins & Almonds

1 large, red onion, sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
3 1/2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 lbs Swiss chard
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds with skins
8 oz cooked, short cut pasta (such as fusili, penne, shells, farfalle, etc.), kept hot

After washing & drying the Swiss chard, remove the center ribs and slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Chop the leaves coarsely and set aside.

Cook onion and chopped chard ribs with 1/4 teaspoon salt in 3 tablespoons oil in a 5- or 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring until softened. Sprinkle with paprika and cook while stirring, 1 minute. Add the chopped chard leaves in batches, stirring frequently until wilted, then adding raisins and water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until chard is tender, about 7 minutes. When finished, toss with pasta and adjust seasonings.

While chard leaves are cooking, start preparing the almonds. In a small heavy skillet over medium low heat, cook the nuts in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil, stirring frequently until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle almonds over pasta and chard.

Serves 6.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream: A Daring Baker Challenge

There are a lot of steps in making the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream -- the recipe is almost as long as the name -- but it wasn't an overly difficult cake to make. (Though getting a cake to look beautiful is difficult, and I need a lot more practice before one of my cakes could be mistaken for a professional one.) I did cheat a bit by not splitting the cake into three layers, which made things easier. Instead, I baked 2/3rds of the batter in one pan, the remaining 1/3 in another, split the larger cake in half and then proceeded as outlined below. (I still managed to f**k up the layers. But, buttercream-as-spackle came to the rescue.)

I liked the cake soaked with the simple syrup and apricot glaze very much, but the buttercream – for which I found my own recipe – and the ganache didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t bad, and I certainly ate more than one slice. But this is not something that I’ve craved since baking it, unlike, say, Danish or sticky buns. Though, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’m an over-the-top decadent cake kinda girl; I pine for simple classics: carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, yellow cake with chocolate buttercream, or maybe even a strawberry cake.

The hazelnut brittle and the subsequent praline, however, were to die for. I need to figure out more ways to incorporate those little goodies into desserts.

Many thanks to the lovely Chris of the lovely Mele Cotte, who is not just a Daring Baker and not just this month's host, but full-on Bakenista! Chris, you are always a pleasure to bake with and learn from.

For more DB goodness, please visit the blogroll and forum!

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter

1 Filbert Gateau
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Gateau

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks form. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. (If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.)

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. Cointreau

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste

Praline Buttercream (source)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, softened to cool room temperature In a small heavy saucepan simmer milk, sugar, and vanilla bean if using, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. In a bowl whisk yolks and add milk mixture in a stream, whisking. Transfer mixture to pan and cook over low heat, stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 170°F. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into another bowl and cool completely. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat butter until light and fluffy and beat in custard, a little at a time, until smooth. Beat in 1/3 cup praline (reserving remaining praline for another use) and vanilla extract if using.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Cointreau
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ - 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp knife with an 8-inch blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.

Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.